Movie Mom

Movie Mom


Interview: Paul Newman biographer Shawn Levy

posted by Nell Minow

Movie critic Shawn Levy, author of the superb books King of Comedy: The Life and Art of Jerry Lewis and Rat Pack Confidential: Frank, Dean, Sammy, Peter, Joey and the Last Great Show Biz Party, has a new book about one of the most accomplished and adored movie stars of all time, Paul Newman. He very kindly made time for an interview in the midst of his book tour.

Q: Newman was one of those rare performers who become icons of their eras. What was it about his style of acting and choices of scripts that seemed so particularly characteristic of the post-WWII years?

A: He often played younger than he really was, like many actors, but it was particularly his casting as the failed sons of strong fathers in such films as “The Rack,” “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” “Hud” and, in a sense, “The Long Hot Summer” and “The Hustler” that cemented him as an icon. He carried the sensitivity of James Dean into a new era when the promise of a film like “Rebel Without a Cause” bled into mainstream and prestige films. He easily segued into rebel/countercultural figures starting in the mid-’60s (“Harper,” “Hombre,” “Cool Hand Luke,” “Butch Cassidy”). And because he was older than the characters he was playing (he was 38 when he made “Hud”), he also carried a savor of mature authority. He played, in short, equally well to both the establishment and the kids who threw mudballs at it.

Q: Is there a performance of Newman’s that you think is particularly overlooked or underrated?

A: His turn as the stage manager in the Broadway production of “Our Town,” which is available on DVD, is a classic bit of Americana. In movies, “Hombre” is tough and sullen and cool in a way you’d associate more with, oh, Steve McQueen than Newman. Both excellent films.

Q: What did he consider his biggest failing?

A: In acting, he felt he was too mechanical and calculating for the first 25 years or so of his career, and I think I’d agree. You see him pulling poses and striking moods quite deliberately even in such fine films as “The Hustler” and “Hud.” But later in life he ratcheted back and produced some astonishing performances. In life, I think he felt he was a very remote and arbitrary father until he reevaluated himself after the death of his son, Scott, in 1978.



  • Alicia

    Excellent interview questions and answers, Nell. If anyone fit the definition of a modern Renaissance Man, it was Paul Newman – father and husband, actor, director, race car driver, political activist, chef, philanthropist. I guess today we would simply call him a “Man in full.”

Previous Posts

Does PG-13 Mean Anything Anymore?
The Washington Post has an article about a new report from the American Academy of Pediatrics, "Parental Desensitization to Violence and Sex in Movies," with some disturbing conclusions about parents' ability to make good decisions about the impact some media may have on their children. This is not

posted 8:00:58am Oct. 25, 2014 | read full post »

Is E-Reading to Kids the Same as Analog Reading?
The New York Times asks, Is E-Reading to Your Toddler Story Time, or Simply Screen Time? In a 2013 study, researchers found that children ages 3 to 5 whose parents read to them from an electronic book had lower reading comprehension than children whose parents used traditional books. Part of th

posted 8:00:40am Oct. 25, 2014 | read full post »

Interview: Todd and Jedd Wider about the Bullying Documentary "Mentor"
Producers Todd and Jedd Wider generously took time to answer my questions about their documentary, "Mentor," the story of two teenagers who committed suicide following relentless bullying. The film, which received Honorable Mention for Best Documentary Feature at the 2014 Woodstock Film Festival th

posted 3:56:57pm Oct. 24, 2014 | read full post »

Clip: Tinkerbell and the Legend of the NeverBeast
[iframe width="560" height="315" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/ApzHJhZz2JQ" frameborder="0"] The latest in Disney's animated Tinkerbell series adds Ginnifer Goodwin to the cast. Coming in March of 2015, it explores the ancient myth of a mysterious creature whose distant roar sparks the curiosity

posted 1:23:59pm Oct. 24, 2014 | read full post »

Interview: "Avatar" Villain Stephen Lang on Playing a Good Guy Coach in "23 Blast"
Stephen Lang is best known for playing the villain in "Avatar." But in "23 Blast," based on the real-life story of Travis Freeman, a high school football player who lost his vision but stayed on the team, Lang plays a good guy, the coach who encouraged and supported him. I talked to Lang about actin

posted 5:56:30am Oct. 24, 2014 | read full post »




Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.